Road Trips, Vol. 4, No. 3: Denver '73
[November 20 & 21, 1973]
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2012, Volume 19, #1
Written by John Metzger
Wed January 25, 2012, 05:30 AM CST
The Grateful Dead has unleashed a daunting amount of material for its fans to digest. There are studio albums, concert compilations, multi-track concert recordings, and numerous DVDs. There also are 36 volumes to its Dick’s Picks series and 17 installments in its Road Trips collection. So, why is it that with all of the music that the Grateful Dead has dispensed, it took until 2011 for the band to issue its performance at the Denver Coliseum on November 21, 1973? Beautifully presented along with a handful of selections from the show that was held on the previous night, Road Trips, Vol. 4, No. 3: Denver ’73 is, to put it quite bluntly, the best release that the Grateful Dead has issued in a long time.
In 1973, the Grateful Dead was flush with ideas. In the preceding years, the band had been adding material to its canon at an alarming rate. At the same time, the outfit had taken its music far beyond its roots in early folk and blues. Nothing was off the table, and everything seemed possible. Yet, there was one facet of the Grateful Dead’s delivery that tainted, however slightly, many of its performances from the era. Namely, the group’s freewheeling tendencies on stage meant that often its concerts would climax long before they were officially over. Without a doubt, the peaks and valleys of some shows from the era were capable of giving fans a serious case of whiplash.
Good fortune undeniably was smiling upon the audience that gathered at the Denver Coliseum on November 21, 1973. Not only did the band deliver a musical performance that was rock-solid, but it also assembled a well-paced show that peaked in all of the right places. Much as the cover art to Road Trips, Vol. 4, No. 3: Denver ’73 suggests, the Grateful Dead galloped across the Wild West with guns a-blazin’ as it painted images of outlaws on the run from life and love. In an unusual move, John Phillips’ classic cowboy tale — Me & My Uncle — led the charge, while a seductive rendition of Sugaree along with a dangerously enchanting Jack Straw followed suit.
As it moved from the spry mariachi-band revelry of Mexicali Blues to the heartbroken refrains of Looks Like Rain to the cleansing waters of Big River, the Grateful Dead brushed aside chilly seasonal winds and conjured the aura of molten summer heat as it cast radiant beams of burnt-orange sunshine across its music. Winding from the soft reflection of winter’s snow through the following fall’s bountiful harvest, Weather Report Suite seemed to summarize the journey that the band had taken during its opening set.
When it returned to the stage, the Grateful Dead wasted nary a moment as it once again brought some Southwestern desert heat to the Denver Coliseum via the bouncy strut of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo. Without hesitation, the band swerved into a mammoth medley of music that was held together by Bill Kreutzmann’s jazzy rhythmic cadences as well as the repeated refrains of Playing in the Band. Coaxing thunderous notes from his bass, Phil Lesh poked holes in the fabric of time, which made room for the sounds that emanated from Keith Godchaux’s piano and Bob Weir’s guitar to spill from one universe into another. With an intensely expressive solo, Jerry Garcia led the way, and the rest of the outfit seemed to be chasing him across the cosmos, eventually encircling his melodic incantations and pulling them back toward the structure of the song.
As the underlying rhythmic charge turned into the steady gallop of El Paso, the pursuer became the pursued, and the revolving pattern of notes that danced from Garcia’s fingertips took the form of a swirling lasso. However, just as he was about to capture his prey, Garcia broke from the pack. Once again, the roles were reversed, and a cosmic chase ensued. The entourage tumbled into the salvation-seeking beauty of Wharf Rat as well as the apocalyptic devastation and haunting wonderment of Morning Dew.
Under ordinary circumstances, this might have signaled the finale of the concert, but the Grateful Dead had a few more tricks up it sleeve. A medley of Truckin’, Nobody’s Fault but Mine, Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, and One More Saturday Night brought the set to a raucous conclusion, while a relaxed and joyous stroll through Uncle John’s Band likely sent the crowd home in a contented state of mind. While there has never been any shortage of outstanding performances from the Grateful Dead, the material featured on Road Trips, Vol. 4, No. 3: Denver ’73 indicates that this was one of the most cinematic nights of the outfit’s career.
Of Further Interest...
Road Trips, Vol. 4, No. 3: Denver '73 is NOT
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, please visit
the Grateful Dead Site!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2012 The Music Box